The word “suede” comes from the French term “Gants de Suede,” which literally translates to “gloves of Sweden.”
Suede is a high-end fabric material that originated in Sweden. It has been widely utilized in the fashion industry to make apparel, footwear, and accessories.
But is this infamous and readily accessible material vegan, cruelty-free, or sustainable? Let’s find out!
Is Suede Vegan?
Suede is not vegan. Suede is a type of split leather derived from the underside of animal skin. Suede can be made out of any animal skin but is typically derived from the skin of cows, calves, pigs, lambs, goats, and deer.
The difference between suede and leather is simply that suede undergoes an additional process in the splitting of the skin. The underskin of the animal is used in the production of suede while the top skin is used to create leather.
Due to this, suede is soft and permeable unlike leather, and it was originally intended for that very purpose. Suede was originally created by Swedish artisans in the Romantic period to produce soft gloves for women. Over time, suede production expanded into other applications of suede that we currently find in the market.
Overall, suede is less durable than other varieties of leather and unlike leather, it is neither waterproof nor dirt resistant.
Is Suede A Byproduct Of The Meat Industry?
Suede is not so much the byproduct but the co-product of the meat and dairy industry. This means that the production of leather is co-dependent on industrial farms. Animals are skinned and slaughtered to produce meat and hide.
The purchase of suede directly promotes factory farms and slaughterhouses. This is because animal skin is the most valuable co-product of the meat and dairy industry.
Livestock production produces approximately a third of greenhouse gas emissions. 14.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions globally come from the animal agriculture industry.
In luxury fashion, animals can also be slaughtered for their skins alone. This means, in some cases, suede is not the byproduct of the meat industry but the main luxury commodity. Which makes the suede industry even more wasteful.
Is Suede Ethical?
Suede is not ethical. Suede is a far cry from being an ethically derived product. Animals bred in awful conditions are slaughtered for their skin. To make it worse, they are brutally killed without being stunned first.
This implies that they are fully conscious during the operation. Others are mercilessly skinned alive, causing them to die slowly in complete suffering.
In the dairy industry, cows are killed to produce leather as soon as their milk production drops. Their young borns, who are typically reared for veal, are also slaughtered to produce high-priced calfskin.
Some claim that buying suede doesn’t support exploitation and killing.
Animal pelts, in actuality, account for a large amount of the price paid for a carcass. Suede isn’t manufactured from discarded byproducts since it demands animal hides of the highest grade.
According to The Guardian, every year, over 290 million cows are slaughtered worldwide. the number is soon approaching 1 billion.
Based on projections, the fashion industry is to slaughter 430 million cows yearly by 2025. Why? To keep the wallets, purses, and shoes going in the fast-fashion market.
Is Suede Environmentally Friendly?
The production of suede and leather is highly unsustainable for its hazardous impact on the environment. Around 90% of leather in the industry is tanned using Chromium to stabilize the skin and make it more durable.
Suede can be produced both before and after the tanning process. Chromium is a heavy metal that’s dangerous even in low concentrations. All chromium-containing wastes are considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Because of its ease of entry into waterways, the use of chromium as a leather tanner is particularly troublesome. Upon entering the soil, it affects microbial populations and can prevent them from growing.
Similarly, suede causes harm to aquatic life when it enters the water.
In addition to that, tannery sludge also contains substantial levels of pollutants. These include protein, hair, salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids. Over 16 million individuals are in danger of being exposed to contaminated environments. South Asian countries account for over 75% of these polluted sites.
For every tonne of hide that is processed, a chrome-tanning operation consumes roughly 15,000 gallons of water. This creates up to 2,200 pounds of “solid waste” including hair, meat, and trimmings.
The incidence of leukemia in a Kentucky community bordering a tannery was five times higher than the national norm. These findings are reported by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Arsenic, another common tannery ingredient, has long been linked to lung cancer in those who are regularly exposed to it. Several investigations have found a relationship between chromium and malignancies of the sinuses.
Apart from this, suede production also poses concerns around land use. Animals used for leather production use tremendous amounts of food and water.
Animal rearing also has a negative impact on the soil and surrounding environmental conditions. It is often the case that suitable land stewardship procedures are not employed in the industry.
Vegan Suede Alternatives
With increasing innovations in the realm of biotechnology, the question arises – is there vegan suede the way there is faux leather? Well, the answer is yes.
In fact, one of the first suede alternatives to hit the market was Ultrasuede. It was developed by Miyoshi Okamoto, a Japanese scientist. The material comprises 80% polyester microfibre and 20% polyurethane plastic. It is commonly used by high-end fashion labels.
More recently, breakthroughs have emerged as a result of textile industry advancements. Microsuede is the generic term for products that are made from various polyester microfibers.
At present, mushroom suede is the most eco-friendly sort of faux suede, while also being the rarest and most costly.
Read also: Vegan Suede Alternatives
Even though humans have been using and wearing animal skin for thousands of years, it is cruel and unneeded in today’s world.
The ability of a garment to last a long time is an important aspect of sustainability. It’s true that suede is at the top of the list because it is a very durable material. However, the environmental consequences and ethical treatment of animals quickly counteract this.
Now, there are a growing number of vegan leather alternatives entering the market. This is thanks to technological innovations in the textile industry.
Yes, there are faux suede and leather alternatives that make use of plastic. This, of course, isn’t sustainable in the long term. But it is a step towards the right direction, one that is more ethical than causing the suffering of millions of animals in the meat and dairy industry.
According to forecasts, the faux leather industry is booming. This is because of the increasing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly bio-based alternatives.
As technology advances, methods for improving the performance of sustainable alternatives will develop. The feasibility of biogenic alternatives will exist as long as there is a demand for a circular economy.